It was an amazing experience to speak with Malachy McCourt, the writer of many great books and actor in wonderful films and plays (including many off-off). In my research I discovered that he, like my own father left school at the age of 13 to work in England! He spoke with me about the importance of finding true love, his concept of what makes a good film and the making of Beautiful Kid written by Mike Carty and produced by Patrick McCullough.
Hello Malachy, is it a good time to talk?
Yes, what would you like to talk about?
The making of this amazing film and other amazing things you’ve done.
Okay. I really loved working with Column McCann. He is fabulous. I’ve read all his books, I am in awe of him…his determination…
You’ve achieved so much as an actor (Molly McMaguires, She‘s the One, The Devil‘s Own, Green Card, Beautiful Kid, Happy Hour, Gods and Generals, Ash Wednesday, HBO‘s Oz), Soap Star (Ryan‘s Hope, Search for Tomorrow, One Life to Live and All My Children), stage actor (Mass Appeal, Da, The Hostage, Inherit the Wind, Carousel and A Couple of Blaggards) and as a writer (History of Ireland, Voices of Ireland, Harold Be Thy Name, Danny Boy, The Claddagh Ring, A Monk Swimming, Singing My Him Song), of all these achievements, what do you consider your greatest?
What I found to be my greatest is what I consider my true love, my wife Diana…that transcends anything that I have done…and becoming a parent and a grandparent. The other stuff is transient…people see you for a minute and then you disappear. There is something about falling in love and staying there. It’s like pealing the onion…more shall be revealed.
That’s wonderful. What is your advice to someone who is trying to accomplish their goals but is struggling?
You can accomplish anything if you stick around…now if you’re dead your accomplishments will come to an end, so stay above ground!
(laughing) Good advice. Let’s talk a bit about your books depicting the history of Ireland (Danny Boy, Voices of Ireland, The Claddagh Ring, History of Ireland). Would you consider these non-fiction?
It‘s historical but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re factual, a lot of it is factual and opinion. Because in (recounting) history you can always get something wrong, and I do!
Can you give me an example?
For example there’s a continual thing about “Danny Boy.“ People say it’s an Irish Song. It has Irish music. But it’s not about a young man going off to fight for Ireland (as many believe). I have no idea. Who is Danny? And what is he doing? I put in my own version and people may not like this…
And you did a lot of research to get to the bottom of this mystery…you talked to historians, musicologists, academics, Irish icons…
Also my brother Frank, Liam Nissan, Seamus Heaney, Larry Kirwan (Black 47)…
And? What was the outcome? Who is the real Danny Boy?
They all had different opinions.
Aside from meeting and falling in love with your wife, what is another achievement you consider most important?
Another accomplishment is getting sober for the last quarter century…it’s a stroke of a divine providence… even though I’m not of the religious…I am spiritual.
That’s ironic because in the movie, your character tries to help the alcoholic family cope. Are there any Irish stereotypes that go with drinking?
As depicted clearly in the film…there is a similarity. However, there is this annoying thing that the Irish are automatically an alcoholic. However, the consumption isn’t anyway near as it is in other countries. Did you know that statistically the Irish spend as much money on books?
Wow, that really goes against those stereotypes.
The movie is fascinating…kind of a ghetto enclave (the Irish) who are besieged… they’ve always thought of themselves as being under siege. These characters as….at one time as Andrew Greely said, they (the Irish) climbed the ladder of success and pulled it up after them and became the seiged. The Irish had to attack and shatter their way into this country. They were the criminals, the prostitutes, they had to put up a fight….which in many ways has ruined their creativity. Now, they write insurance policies instead of books (laughing).
Is your writing approach of fact and opinion also evident in your book, Claddagh Ring?
It’s mythology and legend so nobody really knows. Again how it (the history of the ring) came about…nobody knows. There is a museum in Galway in a tiny shop dedicated to its history…
Does it get a lot of tourists?
No, you put three people in there and it’s packed (laughing). You know historical truth has always been written by the winners. There were no winners in Ireland when Ireland wasn’t ours so in the meantime we told all sorts of stories…
In your book, The History of Ireland you wrote and I’ll paraphrase: one characteristic of the Irish is having “an exhorted sense of resentment.."
Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. However, it makes for good writing. I don’t know what we would have done without the English. The French make great wine by crushing grapes. The Irish make good writers…to get great Irish literature you have to crush the Irish! (laughing) we are very shy…
I like your sense of humor…and I look forward to reading all of these books, especially your histories. You’ve done some mainstream films like, She’s the One. What was Ed Burns like?
I’m close to his mom and dad and I’ve known him since he was a kid. I really liked doing Oz. I mean it was pretty gritty and rough and violent and everything but it was an interesting exercise in the acting field even though it depicted the prison conditions……
You were also a Talk show host for many years.
For six years in the 70s. There was a lot of people pulling you up or abusing you with ‘Why don’t you go back to where you came from?’ Because of my attitude toward religion, ‘You’re disgusting …‘ So anyway, there isn’t anything I didn’t enjoy including being a barkeep. In everything I do, I can’t wait to hear what I have to say next…I am very egotistical…..
Which can be a very good thing.
Yeah, (laughing)you can get a lot done.
A Monk Swimming and its sequel Singing My Him Song seem to be autobiographical...
They are Memoir…not autobiographical. Memoir is impressionistic.
Wouldn’t want Oprah to tear you to shreds…
That’s right…if you’re going to call it an autobiography, it better be. With a memoir you don’t have to do that…
How many films did you do before Beautiful Kid?
It was my first film with my brother Frank though. He’s not an actor.
That's very neat. Did you do anything else with him?
We wrote a play together but we hadn’t done much together in film…talks and things like that.
Beautiful Kid written by Mike Carty took place primarily in Woodlawn, was that your first time in Woodlawn?
I liked it. It’s not a place where I would go too often because I live in the city but I was fascinated by the Irish enclave again…
The movie paints a picture of an Irish American family, what are your thoughts and feelings about the stories‘ negative aspects such as the alcoholism, etc.
It wasn’t negative or positive, it was accurate. That’s what happened. We (Irish) can be pretty stupid like everyone else. I thought it was well written and well done in every way and I hope the very talented team of Mike Carty, Colum McCann and Patrick McCullough will do well with it.
And last but not least, this movie won Best Supporting Actor (John Carty) and Best Actor (Dan Brennan) Awards…do you have a favorite actor?
They were all great. But I think a movie is not an actors medium, it is a directors medium…there should just be best team work in a movie and there should be no awards for acting because it’s the directors efforts, the best way you know a movie is good is when you can’t pick out an actor. A good movie is when everything is working smoothly…to get out a well pulled story….with its big and small roles.
I really like that concept. Thank you very much for speaking with me, I appreciate your time.
You are welcome.